White nationalists plan conference for ‘white working families’ at state park in Eastern Kentucky

Jenny Wiley State Resort Park
Jenny Wiley State Resort Park Photo provided

A white nationalist group plans to instruct participants on proper marching, how to create propaganda and on being “a voice for our people” at a conference in April at Jenny Wiley State Park in Floyd County.

The Traditionalist Worker Party, which claims to “take a stand for white working families,” will gather in the “98.35 percent European” community on April 28 and 29, according to its Facebook post, which has been shared more than 500 times. The post said the event would be held in Pike County but announced that the seminars, speeches and a dinner will be at nearby Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, which is in Floyd County.

Floyd County Judge-Executive Ben Hale said the group has a Constitutional right to meet, but the vast majority of county residents would not condone its views.

“That’s just not the way our county thinks,” Hale said Wednesday. “I feel like we’ve got honest, God-fearing people.”

The few who might agree wouldn’t do so openly, he said.

“I would say they would be hard-pressed to find any Floyd Countians attending.”

State Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, called white nationalist groups “racist bigots” during a speech Wednesday and urged Gov. Matt Bevin to speak out against them in his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday evening.

Jones said he will file a legislative resolution to condemn the groups.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the Senate doesn't stand for or support racism and bigotry but that everyone has the right to free speech.

"This is deplorable speech,” Stivers said. “We're going to look at it and see what we can do. As long as it is legal speech, we cannot prohibit it nor confine it."

The state parks department can’t prevent a group from using a park, a representative said, but the group would be required to resubmit an application addressing safety and other issues after the organizers’ first contract failed to state that the event, called a family reunion, would be public, spokesman Gil Lawson said.

The rooms at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park that were reserved for the event were initially requested for a “Gunner Family Reunion,” according to the contract obtained by the Herald-Leader.

“As a public agency, the Kentucky State Parks cannot discriminate against individuals or groups under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Lawson said in a statement. “However, we will continue to monitor the situation and any threats to our guests, and we will take appropriate actions as necessary.”

At the event, seminars will be geared toward “professionalizing” and training people “to be the best nationalists they can be,” according to the Facebook post.

The chairman of the organization, Matthew Heimbach, said Wednesday that the party will join people from the National Socialist Movement and other groups to host the conference. Over 100 people have registered so far.

The white nationalists “want to make the lives of their children better and be a voice for our people,” Heimbach said. Other than nationalists, there are no advocacy groups for people who are white, he said.

Seminars at the event in April will show people how to write press releases, create propaganda and “explain what we stand for,” Heimbach said. Veterans who are members of the party will hold a seminar on drill and ceremony that will show attendees how to “march properly.”

The area was picked because it “reflects a lot of Appalachia,” Heimbach said. The seminar will raise money for local charities and food for the local food pantry, he said.

The white nationalists plan to be a “lasting presence in the region,” Heimbach said.

Hale and Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton said the group didn’t contact local officials about holding the event.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Traditionalist Worker Party as “a white nationalist group that advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems. Even as it claims to oppose racism, saying every race deserves its own lands and culture, the group is intimately allied with neo-Nazi and other hard-line racist organizations that espouse unvarnished white supremacist views.”

The center lists 13 chapters in Kentucky that it classifies as hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Confederate groups, none in Eastern Kentucky. Its list includes a chapter of the Traditionalist Worker Party in Madisonville.

Ryan Lenz, a spokesman for the center, said Heimbach thinks the Holocaust is a Jewish myth and has long been a fixture in the racist right.

“There’s not a racist group whose cause he won’t help,” Lenz said.